Tips on Having a Gay (ex) Boyfriend by Carrie Jones: C+

From the inside flap:
Is it fair to be mad, mad, mad at your boyfriend for being gay? Anything but straight in small town Maine won’t exactly be a walk in the park, even for invincible Dylan. But can’t heartbroken Belle whine just a little? What’s a girl to do when her perfect soulmate says Goodbye Belle, Hello Bob?

For starters, she makes a list on how to deal.

I was tempted to stop reading this after about twenty-five pages because there were two things that were annoying me significantly. After I decided to make a couple of assumptions, however, I was able to continue on.

#1: Belle claims to be okay with the idea of breaking up with Dylan when it comes time to go to college. After learning he’s gay, she remembers a time when they shared a bathtub, she saw his soul, and had decided that this obviously was a sign they were meant to be together. Although it’s not expressly stated, I decided to assume that this contradiction was the result of the character not really believing that the break-up-for-college would be permanent.

#2: The writing style is pretentious. Just one of many possible examples: “My voice is strong guitar chords sounding across the parking lot and into his soul.” Since it’s written in first person, I decided to assume that this was an intentional choice to capture the voice of the angsty twelfth-grader protagonist.

There were also a couple of annoying editing mistakes: a you’re where it should’ve been your and a reference to Belle and her best friend as juniors instead of seniors.

Even with all this, though, it turned out to be pretty decent. It presents a fairly accurate depiction of adolescent breakup reactions, especially the urge to continue to write notes to someone even though you’re mad at them and the sorrow at realizing that you’re kind of breaking up with a whole family. There’s a lot about trying to be what other people expect you to be, and Belle is ultimately proud of and happy for Dylan that he’s finally able to stop pretending. In turn, she realizes she’d also been doing some pretending in their relationship, and begins to find her real self again.

Sometimes with books like these, the anti-gay reaction from fellow students is over the top, and this book’s no exception. There was also a lot of community and student support, though, so it wasn’t as bad as it could’ve been. What was bloody awful was the ending. I think I sprained something what with all the strenuous eyerolling.

Breakfast on Pluto by Patrick McCabe: A-

From the back cover:
With wonderful delicacy and subtle insight and intimation, McCabe creates Mr. Patrick “Puss” Braden, the enduringly and endearingly hopeful hero(ine) whose gutsy survival and yearning quest for love resonate in and drive the glimmering, agonizing narrative in which the Troubles are a distant and immediate echo and refrain.

Twenty years ago, her ladyship escaped her hometown of Tyreelin, Ireland, fleeing her foster mother Whiskers—prodigious Guinness-guzzler, human chimney—and her mad household, to begin a new life in London. There, in blousey tops and satin miniskirts, she plies her trade, often risking life and limb amongst the flotsam and jetsam that fill the bars of Piccadilly Circus. But suave businessmen and lonely old women are not the only dangers that threaten Puss. It is the 1970s and fear haunts the streets of London and Belfast as the critical mass of history builds up, and Puss is inevitably drawn into a maelstrom of violence and tragedy destined to blow his fragile soul asunder.

Note: Patrick’s nickname actually has a ‘y’ on the end. It’s been changed here to avoid getting lumped in with any naughty stuff filters my employer might have in their arsenal.

I listened to the unabridged audio of this, read by the author. I highly recommend it. In addition to wonderful Irish and English accents, who better to properly interpret the speech mannerisms of Puss, which are integral to this particular character? She mixes gleeful naughty bits (which I might’ve found gross were they not said with endearing silliness) with old-fashioned turns of phrase (ex: ‘When words with Charlie on the phone she did swap…’) to create a lilting, storytelling style.

Puss does quite a few dumb things in the course of the stories she relates, which she fully admits, but she’s so incredibly easy to sympathize with, it doesn’t get annoying. Mostly, it’s just relentlessly sad. I did find it a little hard to pinpoint a timeline for a while, since some elements are told out of sequence, but happily report that it’s clear by the end.

If you’re looking for a titillating book about cross-dressing, this isn’t it. It’s more about the search for warm family love and a place to belong than anything else. All the IRA stuff takes a definite back seat to this more basic concern.

Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides: A

From the back cover:
Middlesex tells the breathtaking story of Calliope Stephanides, and three generations of the Greek-American Stephanides family, who travel from a tiny village overlooking Mount Olympus in Asia Minor to Prohibition-era Detroit, witnessing its glory days as the Motor City, and the race riots of 1967, before they move out to the tree-lined streets of suburban Grosse Pointe, Michigan. To understand why Calliope is not like other girls, she has to uncover a guilty family secret, and the astonishing genetic history that turns Calliope into Cal, one of the most audacious and wondrous narrators in contemporary fiction. Lyrical and thrilling, Middlesex is an exhilarating reinvention of the American epic.

I don’t normally go in for multi-generational family epics, and I still think the basic concept is a boring one, but in Middlesex it’s handled in such a way that it’s all leading up to some revelations made in the first paragraph and explains how they came about. About halfway in or so when I discovered I was enjoying the sprawling epic, I looked it up and found that it had won the Pulitzer Prize for literature. I think it’s well-deserved in this case.

Although I do own a paperback copy of Middlesex, I actually listened to an unabridged audio recording read by Kristoffer Tabori, who was excellent. The language is not exactly florid, but it is pretty detail-rich. It might’ve been annoying to me if I were looking at it on a page, but Tabori adopts a storyteller mien that makes all the description seem necessary to convey the proper atmosphere.

There are a few things that keep this from getting an A+, however. There are two characters who receive quirky nicknames, which can come off as just a little pretentious. When Calliope’s brother is called Chapter Eleven in the first chapter, it totally elicited a groan from me, because I generally hate books that do stuff like that. It is eventually explained, but it just seems a little look-at-me clever. Also, there’s a bit of a plot hole at the end.

So, a plain ol’ A it is. Get the unabridged audio if you can.